Bridge to Paris Pepper

A bushel of Bridge to Paris, at Made in Ghent. Photo by Richard Beaven.

A bushel of Bridge to Paris, at Made in Ghent. Photo by Richard Beaven.

Transforming Seeds, Transforming Tastes

Far back in its ancestry, the Bridge to Paris pepper was simply La Paris, a once popular but now lost sweet red pepper hybrid produced commercially and sold widely to farmers and gardeners across the country. Hybrid varieties are created by intentionally cross-pollinating plants, and La Paris was bred with a certain je ne sais quoi.

However, as hybrids do not grow “true” from their own seed, the “cross” must be repeated each year to achieve the same result. Hybrid seed yields only one generation of plants that are vigorous and productive, displaying the desirable traits for which it had been bred, but a gardener or farmer cannot save seed from a hybrid and expect a duplicate crop. On the contrary, further offspring of hybrid plants are unpredictable. Therefore, growers must annually purchase their supply of hybrid seed, wherein lies a problem of dependence on outside sources of seed.

Unlike its predecessor, Bridge to Paris is an open-pollinated variety, meaning that its seeds can grow true year after year through natural pollination (as long as it is not crossed with another type of pepper). A grower can “dehybridize” a valuable variety by saving and selecting for desired traits over many years, eventually stabilizing the former hybrid into an open-pollinated variety that can adapt to its local environment. Open-pollinated varieties give farmers independence and the ability to further adapt varieties to their local climates and markets – a benefit to the economic viability, resilience, and biodiversity of farms.

More than 15 years ago, two young farmers relocated to the Hudson Valley from Pennsylvania, bringing with them the seeds for a high-producing sweet pepper called Sullivan’s Favorite Frying Pepper – dehybridized from the La Paris pepper. The farmers, Peter Brady and Graziella Cervi, grew Sullivan’s for several seasons, during which the pepper became lengthier and acquired the faintest hint of spice. The seed from this ever-improved pepper was generously shared with their neighbor, Hudson Valley Seed Library, and further selected for sweetness, size and productivity. The variety eventually changed enough to be renamed once again, earning a celebrated spot in the Library’s beloved seed catalog as the Bridge to Paris: a farmer-bred, regionally-adapted, open-pollinated variety that grows like gangbusters each summer up and down the Hudson River.

Within each seed is this story of inspiration, creativity, travel, dedication and adaptation. Each bite of a Bridge to Paris pepper displays not only the taste of the cook who has prepared it, but the particular vision of the farmers who patiently nurtured, shared and preserved it season after season. A pepper that is a bridge, across the land, across the years, and across our table.